Painter, sculptor, photographer. Influential artist. Taboo explorer. Anselm Kiefer has managed to translate into his art the issues of the world and the spiritual connections he felt. Whether his theme was the Nazi rule, the Holocaust, or the teachings of Kabbalah, he incorporated his thoughts and ideas into the astounding oeuvre that we have the pleasure of enjoying today. The German painter has operated in a number of media and tackled the notions of the troublesome past that we learn about in schools. Anselm Kiefer used materials such as ash, clay, straw, shellac, and lead in his art, and was influenced by the poems of Paul Celan. His works are often done on a large scale which goes perfectly with the themes he investigates, which is probably why it is no wonder that we find names and signatures of historically important people many a time in his works. These encoded sigils of legendary characters and historical places help Kiefer deal with the past and connect him with the movements of New Symbolism and Neo-Expressionism.
Anselm Kiefer and his art have influenced the world in more ways than one, and his works are known as the most sought-after ones of this thematic, so let us see which of his artworks have reached the steepest prices in auctions over the course of years.
Editor’s Tip: Danièle Cohn – Anselm Kiefer: Studios
The author of Anselm Kiefer: Studios has worked alongside the artist for years and managed to explain in her book the role of the studios in his creative process. Stepping inside an atelier allowed the author to see the artistic creation in action, in the moment in time. She invites the readers to immerse themselves into the studio of the famous Anselm Kiefer and examine the organization of his atelier, which is, as we know, the stepping stone of any artist’s creative activity. The studios are depictions of the artist’s mind where the physical and the mental combine. Daniele Cohn takes the readers on the journey through Kiefer’s working spaces and explores the role they have in the execution of his art.
The first on our list is Balder's Träume (Balder’s Dreams) executed in 1982. Oil, acrylic, emulsion, straw, and photo on canvas was exhibited in Venice. The immense scale and the complexity of Balder’s Traume tackle the abhorrent legacy of the Nazi regime through the combination of literature, myth and art from the Nordic history and religion, mysticism, and the occult. The painting investigates the myth of Balder, the god of innocence, beauty, peace, and purity, whose death released the final destruction of the Gods at Ragnarök. After the dream of his own death, Balder’s mother tried to prevent it by forcing each object of Earth to solemnly swear never to hurt her son. However, she somehow missed the mistletoe thinking it was too insignificant, but this overlook was later utilized by Loki who used the weed to make a magic spear that ultimately killed Balder. His grieving mother pleaded for his release from the underworld and was promised to have her son back upon the demise of Ragnarok, which must be obliterated as a punishment for Baldor’s death. This Christ-like resurrection inspired Kiefer to create a metaphor of his country’s troublesome past and its venture into the future.
This painting was sold at Christie’s New York for $1,360,000 in 2006. See more details on the piece and the auction here.
This painting exhibited at The Hague was executed in 2005. Des Herbstes Runengespinst – für Paul Celan avails itself of the immense legacy and power of poetry. The title itself bears the name of the poet Paul Celan, this work marks the return to poetry as a prime focus of Anselm Kiefer’s art. The painting is a remaining epitaph to Paul Celan whose distinctively strong observations have influenced and inspired Kiefer continuously. In the picture, we are encountered with the ploughed, barren field that is brightened up with poetic lines and strands of linguistic symbols scattered around the grooves. Apart from the obvious homage to the poet, the title also carries the hints of the ancient scripts and alphabet of the Germanic language (Runen).
This piece was sold at Sotheby’s London for $1,505,750 in 2015. Check out the whole painting as well as the auction details here.
“A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes; he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margareta”. Paul Celan’s poem Todesfuge, or Death Fugue translated to English, is one of his most well-known verses. The poem was inspired by Celan’s experience in concentration camps and the history of Auschwitz. The painful poem brings the story of the prisoners of the camp drinking black milk and digging graves in the sky. Margarete and her blonde hair and Shulamite, a Jewish woman with black hair are the central figures who serve as an apt metaphor in the poem. Anselm Kiefer and his art was heavily influenced by Celan’s Margarete and Shulamite, and Margarete’s golden hair was immortalized in this painting as golden straws planted on the grey surface. The intertwined strands of “blonde” and black paint suggest the inseparable connections these two women share.
Dein Goldenes Haar, Margarete!! was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2011 for $1,594,500. See more about the painting and the auction here.
Delicate petals blooming. Flowers which interrupt the landscape and emerge from the ground that keeps them rooted to their impermanence and death. These flowers present the essence of altering power demonstrated in the physical form of the plants. The title, Die Ungeborenen, translated to English means The Unborn, and it presents the idea that Anselm Kiefer has been tackling in his art for years. The painting bears the spiritual magnificence of the greatest works of Abstract Expressionism. It dances between the order and chaos, and is a reflection of Kiefer’s own understanding of the world as a place that exists between the right and wrong, between the past and future, between the war and peace.
Die Ungeborenen was sold at Sotheby’s London in 2015 for $1,686,880. Find out more about the piece and the auction here.
This monumental-scale painting was executed in 1990. Anselm Kiefer used sand, oil emulsion, silver gelatin prints, wire, fabric, hair, snake skin and lead to create this canvas. In Jewish tradition, Lilith was the first wife of Adam who rebelled by pronouncing God’s name and ran to the shores of the Red Sea to live in exile. Anselm Kiefer has used the image of Lilith in his art in the 1990s to evoke the idea of a creature that roams and wanders the Earth haunting the towns and cities, as well as the ruins, as a reminder of the ancient creation of God that existed long before the Christian inception of time.
This Biblically colossal mixed media painting was sold at Christie’s New York in 2012 for $1,762,500. See more about the piece and the auction here.
The Secret Life of Plants is a two-part painting executed in 2001. The materials used were oil and acrylic on lead, wire, and plaster coated branches on canvas. This painting evokes the feeling of the transience and frailty of life, and the density of all that surrounds it. The dead branches reach out from the piece to create a three-dimensional appearance and invite the viewer to get immersed in the painting. They also provide the sense of delicacy and make the viewers worry that the leaves will fall off the canvas at any given moment. This feeling of the need to take care of the painting perfectly resonates with the painting’s message, and that is that the life is something we should hold and cherish as we only have one and as it can be so easily destroyed.
The Secret Life of Plants was sold at Phillips New York in 2008 for $1,833,000. Find out more about the details here.
Eisen-Steig is a painting created in 1986. The internationally exhibited work depicts train tracks that stand out from the scorched surroundings and lead to the horizon which evokes the sense of a celestial kingdom dressed in gold leaf. Executed in gold leaf, lead, iron, and olive branches, this canvas invites the viewer to get familiar with the complex layers of the artist’s intention and meaning that the work carries. Anselm Kiefer manages to translate into his art the magnificent aesthetic immensity and incorporate the relations of the post-war history and historical truths. In this painting he creates a landscape and a skyscape that embrace the traces of human existence and suffering within the visual narrative.
Eisen-Steig was sold at Christie’s New York in 2012 for $1,874,500. See the whole painting and more details on the auction here.
Created in 1981, Dein Aschenes Haar, Sulamith perfectly embodies Kiefer's profoundly significant, historically informed and uniquely poetic aesthetic dialect. It draws on the legacy and power of poetry, as well as a spiritualistic contemplation of the land. The work reflects the artist's deep admiration for the poet Paul Celan, most particularly Celan’s celebrated 1944 poem Death Fugue. The poem is a sensational early expression of a presiding artistic impulse to express the incommunicable sufferings of the Second World War, a subject which has preoccupied the artist throughout his career.
The work was sold on November 17th, 2016 at Sotheby's New York during their Contemporary Art Evening Auction for $1,750,000. More data on the work here.
Created in 1974, Malen = Verbrennen depicts devastation and loss, as well as the poignant irony of an artist attempting to portray the strained relationship between the creative act and the destruction of the earth. Superimposing his palette over a charred landscape, connecting Art per se with both violence and redemption. A central emblem of the work, the palette serves both as a symbol of heaven and of earthly aggression. The artist himself explained that "the use of the palette represents the idea of the artist connecting heaven and earth.”
The work was sold on May 17th, 2017 at Christie's New York during their Post-War & Contemporary Evening Sale for $2,000,000. More data on the work here.
Created in 1982, Die Meistersinger demonstrates Kiefer’s intellectually mature and nuanced ability to encompass the complexities of cultural history, memory and myth. Imbued with life, vigor, poetry, imagination and drama, the work is woven with a multitude of referential signifiers, thrusting the viewer into a stratosphere of associative cultural and personal histories. The title of the work refers to Wagner's opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, whose opus was favored by leaders of the National Socialist Party in Germany and lauded as a triumph of German culture. Focusing on the concern with both materials and ideology, the artist engages in negotiating with the past.
The work was sold on March 8th, 2018 at Phillips London during their 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale for $2,124,742. More data on the work here.
A monumental, near-sculptural panorama, Laßt tausend Blumen blühen (Let a thousand flowers bloom) from 2012 is among the largest and most virtuosic works in Kiefer’s landmark series of the same title. The artist depicted the statuesque figure of Chairman Mao raising his hand in salute, standing amidst a vast field of flowers rendered in thick, dried layers of oil, acrylic and shellac. Exploring the political manipulation of the Romantic ideal, the artist transforms the ideological symbolism of the floral landscape into an image of political subversion. The artist once explained, "a leader like Mao shows how impossible it is to write history".
The work was sold on October 6th, 2017 at Christie's London during their Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction for $2,240,989. More data on the work here.
A work of monumental scale, Athanor from 1991 is a provocative exploration into Germany’s past, and the vicissitudes of history and memory. This pioneering work remains one of Kiefer’s most charged and concise commentaries on the meaning of matter and the matter of meaning. "Athanor" was a large furnace used by alchemists who attempted to transmute lead into gold by mastering the powers of the four elements: earth, wind, air and fire. The fire that the alchemist would tame is the fire of purification, not destruction. The artist charred the surface of the work, purifying the courtyard of its association with Nazi Germany. In this way, his own fire cleansed the environment of its own history.
The work was sold on March 8th, 2017 at Sotheby's London during their Contemporary Art Evening Auction for $2,302,047. More data on the work here.
Painted in 1983, Grab des unbekannten Malers (Tomb of the Unknown Painter) is a major work from Anselm Kiefer’s landmark series of paintings devoted to the theme of the "Unknown Painter". In this series, the artist used a new mixed-media painterly technique and appropriated real and imaginary monuments from the Nazi period, confronting the oppressive legacy and myth of Germany’s traumatic past. Depicting an imaginary mausoleum based on Wilhelm Kreis’ 1943 plans for a memorial building for the German Panzer Division in Africa, this work encapsulates the pervasive sense of megalomania, mourning, tragedy and hubris.
The work was sold on October 6th, 2016 at Christie's London during their Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Auction for $2,593,360. More data on the work here.
Visually complex and multivalent work, Für Velimir Khlebnikov: Die Lehre vom Krieg: Seeschlachten (For Velimir Khlebnikov: The doctrine of War: Battles) revolves around the work of famed Russian poet and Futurist Velimir Khlebnikov, who produced a canon of experimental poems and a series of elaborate theories in which he explored the idea of the cyclical recurrence of sea battles. The surface of the canvas is covered by heavy impasto layers of burnt umber, smoky charcoal and black, featuring a handmade submarine amidst the turbulent seas. Both brooding and chaotic, the work is an extension of the artist's exploration of his own German national psyche, the country’s artistic heritage and the enduring influence of both World Wars.
The work was sold on June 27th, 2016 at Phillips London during their 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale for $2,847,400. More data on the work here.
The runner-up for our most expensive Anselm Kiefer art creation is Dem Unbekannten Maler executed in 1984. The painting investigates two motifs: architecture and the role of the artist. This grand-scale artwork, a palette is hovering in the center of an imposing, yet sinister barren courtyard. The artist’s monuments pose as strong symbols of troublesome history, and the destruction. The plaza in this painting refers to the infamous Hitler’s Chancellery in Berlin, designed in honor of the Unknown Soldier by Albert Speer. It was also known as the place of Hitler’s bunker where he committed suicide at the end of the World War II. Kiefer incorporated organic elements into the plaza that formerly stood as the stronghold of the Nazi regime, evoking the sense of frailty and transience instead of the indestructibility that Speer intended.
This piece was sold at Christie’s New York in 2011 for $3,554,500. See more details about the work and the auction here.
Here we are, the number one most expensive Anselm Kiefer art piece is Lasst tausend Blumen Bluhen! or “Let a hundred flowers bloom”. It is a statement by Mao Tse-Tung made in his various speeches during the 1950s which Kiefer utilizes and raises to a thousand to depict the socialist dictator surrounded by flowers stretching his arm in an attempt to put nature under his control. Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom is a vast panorama from Kiefer’s Occupation series, and it draws focus on the Hundred Flowers Movement in China. In the field of pale flowers stands Mao’s statue encountered many a time by the artist though his adventures and travels across China. When seen from a distance, the statue leaves the viewer perplexed. Is it benevolent or malevolent? Is it the statue of the savior or the dictator? The juxtaposition of the pale, fragile flowers against the coldness of the statue suggest the ultimate fruitlessness in the authoritarian attempt to suffocate the art and the freedom of thought.
Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom was sold at Christie’s London in 2007 for $3,549,350 and then again in 2014 for $1,923,520 making it Anselm Kiefer’s priciest artwork. See more details here.